The Natural Puts Overall Athleticism to the Test

Rive Gauche Television’s Bryan Gabourie and Marine Ksadzhikyan discuss the sports-themed competition format.

The genres of sports and reality collide in the elimination competition The Natural (The Search for Your Country’s Greatest Athlete), a new format that Rive Gauche Television will be launching at MIPTV. The concept behind the show is to find the country’s greatest athlete, with amateurs being mentored by sports celebrities until an ultimate winner is crowned.

From five regional tryouts around the country, the top 25 men and 25 women will compete in a series of competitions combining skills from a multitude of sports. Four celebrity athletes will serve as “managers,” helping to guide competitors along the way. Each drafts a team of ten, narrowing the field to 40. Competitors are tested in overall athleticism across many sports.

***Image***The Natural came out of an idea from Bill Garnet, who has 30-plus years of experience as an executive producer, director and broadcast executive, specializing in sports, reality  competition series  (such as World’s Strongest Man and Battle of the Network Stars), documentary, concerts and live events (such as the Olympics, Wimbledon, Super Bowl, etc.). “We were lucky enough to develop a relationship with him and partner on taking the concept out as an international, adaptable format,” explains Bryan Gabourie, the VP of distribution and development at Rive Gauche.

Gabourie says he saw the format potential in the show right away. “Sports [is a genre that] transcends; every culture can relate to it in one way or another. Every culture has a sporting identity. It could be vastly different in the AsiaPac Rim than it is in the U.K. or in the U.S., but every culture can identify with sports, athleticism and competition.”

Marine Ksadzhikyan, Rive Gauche’s senior VP of distribution and development, says that one of the series’ key selling points is its adaptability. “The best part about the format is that you can tailor it to each country for whatever their popular sports are,” she notes. “You don’t necessarily have to include American football; in Europe you could put in soccer or rugby. Every country and broadcaster can tailor it to their needs.”

Both executives point out how the format can also be made in a way that is gender-neutral. “We’re really trying to represent male and female athletes,” says Ksadzhikyan. “It’s not just targeted to men. In our mindset, there would be a point in the competition where the male and female athletes are combined. There are also many different versions you could do. For example, you could put kids up against each other.”

The use of well-known athletes also adds to the show’s appeal, Gabourie points out. “The dynamic of having these celebrity athletes, who are coaching and mentoring, working with everyday people who are taking part in the competition really makes them relatable on a level that the audience hasn’t seen before. That’s exciting for us, and for the audience it will be exciting to see these guys interacting with everyday people we all can relate to.”

Gabourie highlights the fact that the show isn’t about any one sport in particular—it is about athleticism overall. “Competitors will come with varying backgrounds,” he explains. “There will be people who are amazing swimmers, there will be people who are natural basketball players or amateur soccer stars. The show seeks the greatest athlete. Those people will have to have skills that can transcend that sport and make them successful in a wide range of activities. It’s about athleticism and that’s a crucial piece of the puzzle.”

Another crucial puzzle piece for international adaptations is tapping into the “emotional and heartwarming stories” that can play out, according to Ksadzhikyan. “These are athletes who maybe can’t get tryouts with the professional teams and this is the way they’re going to succeed,” she says.

The Natural is being positioned as a prime-time format. “This is a big concept with really broad reach,” Gabourie says. This is why Rive Gauche believes it’s suited for major terrestrial broadcasters globally. Ksadzhikyan points out that “any size broadcaster can scale this format.”

While the company has been involved in selling formats for a while now, The Natural marks the “biggest idea we’ve ever gone out with,” says Gabourie. “We want to continue in that direction. We’re always open to great, original ideas. We think this is a perfect example [of that] and we’re going to carry the ball forward.”